Dell Studio XPS 7100: Good from the Factory?

The tricked-out Studio XPS 7100 desktop Dell asked us to review is an interesting beast. A review of a factory desktop machine that isn't some powerhouse gaming beast with liquid cooling, factory overclock and optional sunroof might seem a little unusual here on a site with a readership full of people who like to roll their own. Yet machines like the Studio XPS 7100 have a reason for being and are worthy of any enthusiast's attention.

For some of us, building a machine can be a lot of fun and very rewarding; for others, it can be an exercise in hair-pulling frustration as parts that “should work” don't. Bad RAM, faulty motherboards, and other potential problems can mar the DIY experience. Other potential users may just be lapsed enthusiasts looking for a decent machine without having to read up on new tech, or enthusiasts that know what parts they want but don't feel inclined to spend the time assembling and tweaking a system. Perhaps you're after a powerful desktop for editing home video, doing photo work, and maybe enjoying an occasional game and you want to keep things as easy as possible.

The Studio XPS 7100 fills a profoundly useful niche by offering some of the latest technology available on the market in an attractive package. With it, Dell seeks to serve all of the aforementioned users and more.

Dell XPS 7100 Specifications
Processor AMD Phenom II X6 1055T
(6x2.8GHz, 45nm, 3MB L2, 6MB L3, Turbo Core up to 3.3GHz, 125W)
Chipset AMD 785G Northbridge, AMD SB750 Southbridge
Memory 2x2GB and 2x1GB DDR3-1066 (Total 6GB, Max 4x4GB)
Graphics ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5
(1600 Stream Processors, 850MHz Core, 4.8GHz Memory, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) 1.5TB 7200 RPM (Seagate Barracuda 7200.11)
Optical Drive(s) Blu-ray reader/DVD+-RW combo drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Dell DW1525 802.11n PCIe wireless
Audio Realtek ALC887 HD Audio
5.1 audio jacks, mic and line-in
Front Side MMC/SD/CF/MS reader
Optical Drive
Open 5.25” Bay
Open 3.25” Bay
2x USB 2.0
Top 2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jack
Power button
Back Side AC Power
Optical out
4x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet jack
Surround sound jacks and mic and line-in jacks
2x DVI-D
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.02" x 17.9" x 7.31" (WxDxH)
Weight 22.4 lbs
Extras 460W Power Supply
Wired keyboard and mouse
Flash reader (MMC/MS/CF/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing Starting at $499.99
Priced as configured: $1,149.99

Our review unit is Dell's top-end factory configuration for the Studio XPS 7100 line, and a couple of things on the spec sheet immediately jump out. The first is the brand new AMD Phenom II X6 1055T beating at the heart of it, a native six-core, 2.8GHz beast with 6MB of L3 cache and featuring AMD's Turbo Core technology. Turbo Core is a similar but arguably less efficient version of the Turbo Boost feature found in modern Intel Core processors, but it's capable of bumping core speed up to 3.3GHz on the 1055T under the right conditions. Still, even six 2.8GHz Phenom II cores pack enough muscle to get some serious computing done.

The other eyebrow-raiser in the Studio XPS 7100 is the ATI Radeon HD 5870, ATI's top-of-the-line single-GPU card. Ours is a bone-stock reference version with 1GB of GDDR5. You're undoubtedly familiar with the specs of the 5870, but for the sake of completeness, ATI's monster uses TSMC's 40nm fabrication process and is equipped with 1600 of ATI's stream processors running at a core clock of 850MHz. A 256-bit memory bus is connected to 1GB of GDDR5 running at an effective 4.8GHz. Finally, the card is DirectX 11-class hardware, and is capable of supporting up to three monitors simultaneously or even presenting all three transparently as a single screen in their Eyefinity configuration. While one of these monitors must be connected through DisplayPort (or an active DisplayPort adapter), our review unit was sent to us along with one of Dell's new and remarkably affordable E-IPS panel monitors, and those monitors include native DisplayPort connectivity. (We'll have a separate review of the display in the near future.)

Rounding out the core of the Studio XPS 7100 is 6GB of DDR3-1333 in the form of a pair of 2GB DIMMs and a pair of 1GB DIMMs. The 6GB is an odd choice; we would have liked to see Dell go whole hog and just include 8GB standard, since in order to make the upgrade later on you'll have to remove the two 1GB sticks. When you order off the site, it may be prudent to save yourself the trouble and pony up the $60 for the upgrade to 8GB.

Unfortunately, the chipset the memory and processor are plugged into is a bit antiquated these days. The MicroATX board in the guts of the XPS 7100 uses the 785G chipset with the SB750 Southbridge. The 785G's DVI and HDMI ports are actually blocked off by covers on the back of the tower, and a visit to the BIOS yielded no way to enable ATI's SurroundView. That's not a major loss given the three display outputs on the Radeon HD 5870, but the inclusion of the SB750 Southbridge alongside the shiny new Phenom II X6 is disappointing. The more modern SB850 with 6Gbps SATA ports and generally improved SATA performance over its predecessor would have been much appreciated.

Rounding out the machine are a single 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 hard disk spinning at 7200 RPM with 32MB of cache and a combination Blu-ray reader/DVD burner. Connectivity comes from an onboard Broadcom gigabit Ethernet port and Dell's own 1525 model PCIe wireless-n card. The wireless card is awesomely adorable, fitting into the PCIe x1 slot without extending at all beyond it and keeping a low profile, and it sits in the slot just above the Radeon HD 5870. Finally, audio duties are handled by a Realtek ALC887 HD audio controller.

Dell Studio XPS 7100 Closer Look
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  • Quake - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Overclocking? Dell? Please...
  • seapeople - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    The other MAJOR problem with buying a desktop computer from Dell is that you're out of luck if you want to run drivers specific to HP laptops. So if you want to run such drivers, you should probably get a computer that supports it.

    Also, if you're planning to upgrade to a more power hungry $400 video card in the future, isn't it possible to pay $70 for a better power supply as well?
  • erikstarcher - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    What in the world are you talking about? Why would you want to run specific HP laptop drivers on a Dell desktop??? Am I missing the point, or did you type something wrong?
  • seapeople - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I was implying that expecting to overclock a Dell is almost like expecting to run HP specific laptop drivers on a Dell desktop. It was sarcasm. I must have failed.
  • prof.yustas - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    I have a very similarly configured system, but compared to my older DELL, it is loud. Short of changing the case (or using liquid cooling), what can I do to make it quieter?

  • HangFire - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Open it up, run it, and stop each fan one by one with your fingertip or a rubber eraser. When the big noise goes away, you have found the problem fan. Call Dell and RMA that part.
  • prof.yustas - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    There is no problem with parts. The system is just loud because it uses more fans and those fans are more powerful, I guess.
  • wilmarkj - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    You cant compare a Dell to a machine built from standard OEM parts. Dells tend to have non standard motherboard sizes, cases, powersupplies, power connectors with odd pinouts. SOme have suggested that dell does this to deliberately prevents users from servicing their systems. I always tell everyone a built up system will cost you more but the advantage comes when you need to change out/upgrade a subsystem, they dell you just throw away.
  • erikstarcher - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    This is no longer true. Most Dell machines have standard mATX motherboard layouts, and use standard power supplies. Some minor modifications may be needed due to power switch on the back of a power supply, or different pinouts used for the front of the case lights, etc. The only ones that differ are their optiplex machines and they use the BTX standard, and small form factor machines, which there is no standard for. They did use non-standard parts many years ago, but not anymore.
  • wilmarkj - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    I wont trust them as you have no control over what they use (unless i see a commitment on their website that they use standard industry parts) although you are saying this case its standard parts. Due to their history i wont trust this - a computer from dell has to be at least 20% cheaper for this to be a good comparison for similarly bought retail hardware. Just yesterday i was hooking up a recently company bought Optiplex and it had some crazy DMS 59 connector for the monitor (video card), although it appeared to be a standard ATI video card.

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